Tlingit Indians

The Tlingit Indians are an indigenous group of people who make their home along the Pacific Northwest. In the United States, the Tlingit can be found along the Southern Alaska coast. In Canada, the inland Tlingit occupy areas of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. The Tlingit are sometimes referred to as the Kolosh, the Russian term for them.

To survive the Tlingit relied on the sea and fished for much of their food. The Pacific Salmon was one of the staples of their diet and was a central part of their economy as well as thought to be a sacred people. Other staples in their diet included halibut, cod and herring. Sea mammals such as seals were also easy to obtain. To fish the Tlingit men used canoes, fishing traps, spears, hooks and nets. Wild animals including deer, birds, goats and rabbits could be gained from the land. Women did most of the cooking and caring for the children. In Tlingit society women were not subordinate to men and could hold positions of importance, including shaman.

The Tlingit built houses using wood to live in, building them near the sea for convenience. To the Tlingit their housing was a large part of their society and culture. Since the Tlingit people traced their family lineage through their mothers, homes included the mother's children, their wives and children, extended family members and slaves.

One of the most well known ceremonies of the Tlingit Indians was the potlatch. It was a winter ceremony used to honor the dead and celebrate weddings among other reasons. During a Potlatch, the host would give gifts and food to the guest, as well as giving speeches and performing songs and dances. A potlatch could go on for days and was also a way for the host to increase their social status.

During the 1800s, fur traders began to arrive in the region. Though British and America fur traders also arrived it was the Russians who were able to gain a monopoly. The Russians arrival in the area caused tension with the Tlingit Indians as they battled for land and resources. During the Battle of Sitka, the Tlingit attacked a Russian fort killing most of the Russians stationed there. In 1804 as retaliation, the Russians drove them from their home and did not allow them to return for almost 20 years. Interaction with fur traders also carried negative effects for the Tlingit. The introductions of tobacco, alcohol and exposure to European diseases lead to negative health effects.

Traditionally, Tlingit Indians spoke the same language, though different dialectics existed. Today most Tlingit Indians speak English and the Tlingit language is dying out. The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) is the governing body that represents both the Tlingit and Haida (another indigenous group) in the United States.

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